It wasn't easy being the first born of seven. I was the second mother: changing diapers, walking strollers, taking little hands to the park, or to the sink, or to the bathroom. It was like being the VP of Special Projects, with an extensive array of duties, as assigned by the President, none other than Mom herself. While the responsibilities were vast, so were the rewards, even if it were just a silent nod, letting me know that "we" -- Mom and I -- were on the right track.
This sense of duty, this desire to protect my mother, to lighten her load (and, let's face it, safeguard my VP position) was nothing insignificant. In my mother's absence, it made perfect sense -- to me, at least -- that I should assume her role. When would Mom want the children in bed? (early) How would Mom want us to behave in school? (studious), in church? (prayerful), in the library? (quiet). If something wasn't carried out to the standard my mother would want, surely it was my responsibility to make that happen. Wasn't it?
I suppose that's why it came as a bit of a shock when not everyone appreciated my role as VP. After being "shushed" in the church pew for the 14th time, my sisters considered staging a rebellion. They failed to see that everything would work out if they only listened to me. Much to my chagrin, the girls did not seem inclined to take -- let's say -- strong suggestions from one of their own. Evidently, there seemed to be a fundamental misunderstanding about who was the boss of them. This became particularly problematic when I thought we should all become rising stars. If the Osmond Brothers and the Brady Bunch could make it, why couldn't the Gill Girls? Wouldn't Mom be proud when she saw our names in lights at the Lancaster Opera House?
At first, things went smoothly. I convinced my sisters that we needed a name, something classic and catchy: The Sunshine Club. We held regular meetings (where I was in charge, of course). I posted signs around the house, reminding them of our audition schedule. We learned our theme song, You Are My Sunshine, with what were sure to be award-winning "moves" choreographed by none-other-than yours truly.
The idea was grand, and I counted down the days until our Big Break. For a while, things were just as I had imagined. We sang in the car, at family picnics, even at a cousin's wedding. The nursing homes were particularly kind to us. When we made it on to a local radio talk show, we were convinced that we were just one wheel shy -- and, perhaps, a few screws loose -- of the Partridge Family bus.
Of course, things were bound to break down. Not everyone shared my artistic vision. My sisters started skipping Sunshine Club. They had their routine excuses: I'm hot, I'm tired, I want a solo. Or, they talked about playing freeze tag or kickball -- or being a little bit more like the other kids. I couldn't work like that. Nevertheless, the oldest I remained. And remain.
Over time, I've put away some of my VP tendencies. (Right and wrong were so much clearer when I was 12.) I keep the "shushing" to a minimum. Now I try to talk less, listen more. But people who know me and The Sunshine Club might beg to disagree. If pressed, I'd have to admit: I still find myself looking over my shoulder for Mom's nod from time to time -- still hoping for our Big Break.